News Leader

County may take on Hilliard fire coverage
By: RUSSELL PACE, Community Newspapers

Talks regarding a proposal by Nassau County officials to consolidate the Hilliard Volunteer Fire Department and the county were held Monday.
Attending an informal meeting to talk about the proposition were Director of Emergency Services Thomas Kochheiser, Fire Chief Charles Cooper, attorney Michael Mullin, Fire Chief Toby Dixon, Assistant Fire Chief D. Henninger and Council Member and fire commissioner Cris McConnell.
Some county officials have expressed concerns about the abilities of the Hilliard Volunteer Fire Department to fulfill contractual obligations, with regards to offering fire and rescue services to the town's outlying areas.
Discussions to merge the two departments were not brought about by any criticism to the Hilliard volunteers or their abilities, Kochheiser said, but because the number of volunteers recently dipped below the minimum allowed by the contract.
A report filed recently by Dixon stated the number of Hilliard volunteers at one point fell to less than the required four, which also caused worries about the safety of the county residents living in the 240-square-mile area of District 4.
"Most of the other volunteer stations, such as Callahan, have other volunteer stations located close to them," McConnell said. "Hilliard does not and we have the largest fire protection district surrounding us."
Dixon has been adamant that residents of Hilliard and the surrounding area have not suffered inadequate fire and rescue protection.
Kochheiser said the problem of supplying manpower to help the county provide fire and rescue services to county land is not a Hilliard issue but rather one that is prevalent among all the volunteer stations.
"It doesn't matter if you have five or 50 volunteers," he said. "They are only available so often."
Dixon agreed, saying most of his volunteers have full-time jobs and families.
A similar problem in Bryceville a few years ago was solved when the county began to provide full-time fire fighting and rescue personnel to the volunteer station.
The county placed two full-time fire fighters in the Hilliard station earlier this year in an effort to beef up the manpower. Dixon said the Hilliard Volunteer Fire Station now has 10 volunteers.
A list of features and benefits to allowing the county to absorb the Hilliard station was presented to McConnell by Kochheiser.
McConnell said he would look at the list, but added he already saw some items he disagreed with.
"That's why this is a good place to start talking," Kochheiser said. "This is a starting point."
The list of proposed features and benefits include:
-- Hilliard volunteers would serve under the auspices of the county.
-- The county would cover Workman's Compensation for the volunteers.
-- The county would provide all necessary training and refresher training.
-- Hilliard would turn over its new fire tanker, E-One, to the county.
-- The county would provide all mechanical and fuel needs of the tanker.
-- The county would equip all volunteers with bunker equipment and pagers.
-- The town's insurance rates paid by residents and businesses would be reduced.
-- The county would provide 24-hour response to fire and emergency medical calls to the town.
Mullin called for a meeting between county and town officials to discuss the matter further. A date for the meeting was not announced.

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